16 posts categorized "Music"

July 07, 2015

"I like it" is not good enough

Creative conflict is the ability to agree to disagree, and use the disruption of a disagreement to make your work better. It relies on the partners in disagreement to both be on top of their game, both of them respectful of the other's views on how something might be made better.

Teachers seek this creative, quality feedback discourse every day in their students' work. But every month I bump into another educator who will not "believe" that the practice I'm sharing with them will make their students' outcomes better. The frustration of practice being negated by a simple "I don't believe this will work with my students / in math / in this school" is hard for me to mask - if you want to know one of my 'buttons', press this one.

The video clip I show in return, helps those who don't understand creative conflict get the point, without having to take it personally. It also shows the subtle difference between simply taking research "as is", and having a critical eye on the research.

Barenboim's masterclass pianist plays at a dynamic which is not written in the piece (like a teacher choosing to ignore what a piece of research says). When pushed on why he does it, he says: "because I like it". Barenboim has two options in his potential reply. One would be:

"But the manuscript says this, so play it like that".

This is the musical equivalent of what might be said by the emergent research-led cabal who wouldn't have a teacher teach a certain way unless it had been researched robustly that way first.

Instead, Barenboim asks him to reflect, to think about why he's taking the manuscript / the research and interpreting it differently, in his own style. It's an example of the fine line between virtuoso and just getting it wrong, in spite of what the manuscript suggests you might do for 'success'. And the clip makes the subtle, nuanced point in a way far more subtle and nuanced than most edu-speak can ever manage.

June 16, 2015

When a Snow Queen starts a school: the no-grades route to University

Drumduan

No grades (ever), no sitting down at desks, and harnessing student boredom as a motivator to create and explore might seem an odd recipe for academic success and entry to university, but that is exactly what one of Scotland's newest schools is attempting to do.

Drumdruan Upper School was created a few years ago by Scottish actress Tilda Swinton, star of many a Hollywood blockbuster and forever in my mind the terrifying Witch in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The school extends a Steiner education beyond the age of 14, and takes students through to their University years. The Observer has published a fascinating and detailed account of some of the recipe that makes this a special place and, above all, has bowled over the traditionally conservative schools inspectorate:

That is not what happened: the inspectors sat in the classes and watched the students. And if you watch the students at Drumduan, you soon notice they are confident, articulate, highly motivated and respectful. These are, in fact, the words used by the inspectors in their subsequent report. You might even believe the students at Drumduan wanted to be there. The inspectors clearly felt so, but it was when they had retired to an office to confer that Krzysztof, a master of the spontaneous gesture, delivered the coup de grace. He sang to them.

Music is something of a hallmark at Drumduan, where children participate in regular workshops – often on instruments like a wheelie bin – and start each day singing in four-part harmonies. “We were rehearsing in another room, and I said: ‘This song is terrific, we have to show these inspectors,’” Krzysztof recalls. “So we burst into their office – they were a bit alarmed – and I said: ‘I’m sorry, we’ve just got to sing this song to you.’” The song was “Media Vita”, a medieval score of haunting beauty that reduced the inspectors to tears, according to Krzysztof. Bowled over by their praise – he is a man whose emotions are close to the surface – Krzysztof asked if he could give them a hug, probably a first for all of them.

 ...

“There’s no grading, no testing at all,” Tilda had explained to me earlier. “My children are now 17, and they will go through this school without any tests at any time, so it’s incredibly art-based, practical learning. For example, they learn their science by building a Canadian canoe, or making a knife, or caramelising onions. And they’re all happy 17-year-olds. I can’t believe it – happy and inspired.”

February 10, 2015

Failure: When is it "a fail too far"? #28daysofwriting

At a concert in Gothenburg Concert Hall October 23, 2013, Christian Zacharias stopped playing in the middle of Haydn's Piano Concerto, interrupted by a cell phone ringing for the second time the same concert. Was he right to stop?

In this interview, that I've used in two recent keynotes on creativity and failure, Zacharias makes the point that listening to a concert is one of the rare moments in our lives where we can concentrate on just one thing, without interruption. Much like deep thinking or learning, interruptions by phone rings (or bell rings in school) are catastrophic for our projects and ideas.

In this instance, it was just too much. On the up side, Zacharias says, after such an interruption, the audience is even more attuned to what is going on, on the stage.

But not all interruptions need to be treated with the same disdain: 

I love the shrug at the end, a realisation that something simple and playful can diffuse the potential blot on a whole performance. 

In teaching, it's easy to let interruptions get in the way of our thinking. We respond with anger, frustration, telling offs... But it is the regular interruptions to our thinking - the bell, the timetable, the examination - that risk being the biggest incumbrance to sustainable levels of creativity and deep thinking of school students the world over. 

10 years ago, I might have been amongst the masses to point out that the bell, the timetable and the examination are all thrust upon me, as a teacher, and that I have no chance of controlling them merely in the name of creativity. Today, however, I know that teachers can achieve so much more if they design their way out of it. I've just come off a call with educators at Nanjing International School where, in preparing and prototyping ideas for a new strategy:

  • students have taken longer periods of time with specialists, rather than the chop-change of a regular schedule - more learning, less running around between classes;
  • homework has been replaced with home learning, based on the self-created projects students undertake during the day;
  • students develop personal projects get deep into learning outside the classroom, where there are no bells or timetables (said one kid: "When you're interested in it it's really easy!");
  • parents are sitting in with their sons and daughters during class and lunchtime, to see how they learn what they learn;
  • students are starting kernels of social entrepreneurship firms whose objective is longevity and sustainability, not short-term money-making.

All of these have come as a result of the school working as a whole, with design thinking mindsets along the way, to think differently about learning, to make learning happen from the point of view of what works for the student, more than what works for reinforcing the existing system.

Less of the status quo can only ever be a good thing...

StatusQuo

I should finish by pointing to the encore of Zacharias, where his playfulness is finally visible.

February 05, 2015

"I like doing it that way" is not good enough #28daysofwriting

This morning in Edmonton I'll be giving a keynote made up almost entirely of musical metaphors for educators. I've only given the talk once, but it proved particularly powerful with my group of Swedish educators at the time, because you don't need to speak great English to understand the lessons we can learn for our own classrooms.

In the excerpt above, young pianist David Kadouch gets pushed by  pianist Daniel Baremboim. In fact, he gets a pretty hard time when he changes the dynamic - when he plays an E flat note louder than the pianissimo (super quiet) the composer asked for. When asked why he was doing it the young Kadouch replies: "Because I like it". Baremboim is not impressed:

"I'm very sorry, with all due respect, it's not good enough.

"If you had thought of a good reason... I would have said 'chapeau'. But "I like it" is not good enough.

I'm not trying to compare what you're trying to do with the way I think it should go. I'm trying to help you achieve more of what you want to achieve yourself, so that's why it's important that I know why."

Baremboim points out that, because the student has not thought of the reason he is playing something in a certain way, he cannot justify playing it that way.

When I think of teachers' practice, I hit the same kind of conversation daily. I'm no Baremboim of teaching, but I can ask "Why" to find out why a teacher thinks that planning or teaching in a certain way is the best way of achieving what they want to achieve. Knowing the why, we can then both work together to ascertain if, from the world of teaching and learning savvy that we can access, the chosen path is really the best one at all.

This is the essence of design thinking. We design (take time to consider each element of) our thinking (we actually think through for ourselves; don't just assume that the first answer is the right one). 

Alas, most days the initial response is more or less what Kadouch says: "Because I like doing it that way; Because I've always done it that way; Because I saw someone else do it that way." None of these answers is good enough.

There's no care, no design, no thinking.

Here are some simple "Whys" where "because I like it" isn't good enough. And the resultant conversation might help open up some better learning in any classroom:

  • Why do you start a lesson with a teacher's voice?
  • When people are talking why do you keep going?
  • When students are clearly producing pretty but shallow work, why do you let them give the presentation?
  • When that kid wants to make a movie again, why do you let them?
  • Why do you, and not your students, choose the resources and activities that they will undertake each and every hour they're with you?
  • Why do you assume that student-led learning of content will lead to students 'getting through' less content than if you stand and deliver it?
  • Why do you think maths students cannot undertake student-led projects as effectively as in social studies?

The full masterclass can be viewed on YouTube.

December 21, 2012

Bach: the Design Thinker

Bach music

As a teenager I loved playing Bach on the piano, an instrument that for most of my playing time I was maybe less than loving about. It was all about first of all learning the rudiments, then adding in what you felt about it, then bringing the parts together into a whole that always felt greater than the sum of those elements I'd practiced in bar-by-bar, note-by-note detail. Today, I still play music - percussion - and it's the same process, I guess, that I describe in Bach: learn the rudiments well, pull them together bit by bit, then unleash the whole to see what it sounds like together with the band.

This process is not dissimilar to design thinking, the way of structuring one's thinking so as not to miss out on a potentially epic idea or solution to a problem that we've been harnessing across the schools with whom we work. Rebecca Cochran has taken Bach's music and composing style to reveal how in composing these he, too, was following many of the design thinking processes and habits of mind. In her blog post she explains each one in greater detail:

  • Bach combined the analytical with the intuitive.
  • Bach employed iterative prototyping.
  • Bach took inspiration from a broad range of experiences and cultures.
  • Bach co-created with others.
  • Bach regularly embraced constraint as a source of creativity.
  • Bach wrote music for the people. 

Hat tip on this, I think, is Tom. Pic from Magnuscanis.

August 30, 2012

Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz

Jazz


I'm paraphrasing somewhat, but this is a fascinating interview from jazz musician and management professor Frank Barrett, on a key design thinking skill, where problem solving alone is not sufficient.

A certain creative mindset with a distinct process that a team can use to hit its groove and make new discoveries is at the core of jazz, and it's at the core to the way of thinking that we've been working hard on with design thinking in schools. Likewise, the jazz musicians' practice of dislodging their routines in order not to fall into clichés is core to the design thinking process: the process of 'playing' remains the same, but the mindset we learn helps us see the same things we've seen before in a new light, time and time again:

 "Improvisational mindset means that you have to leap in and take action, to say "yes". "Yes" is a mindset of affirmative confidence. You can't stop and problem solve. Problem solving is just not sufficient. If you're just in a problem-solving mindset your imagination is going to be shrunk. Comedy improvisors have an obligation to build on someone else's gag with "yes, and…". The same is true in jazz. You don't stop and analyse, criticise what you've heard. You jump on it and build."

As a jazz drummer through most of my youth (and still, on headphones and my Roland, in my office ;-) this podcast reminds me of all the leadership and team thinking lessons that I learned back then: comping to make the soloist sound great, that sense of "ubuntu", where I can't sound good unless my buddy sounds good, that constant listening to others in order to build on what they started...

Other leadership lessons have been summed up beautifully by musicians in these clips. My favourite, and one that I often pillage at the closing of a workshop or talk, is Itay Talgam's set of metaphors of conductors and leadership:

Stefon Harris talks about how, in jazz, there are never mistakes unless you as a band don't build on each other's playing:

And Benjamin Zander talks about how to lead people to love music (or learning, or anything...)

Thanks to my Detroit buddy Jordy for sending me the link to this podcast.

(Original photo http://www.flickr.com/photos/edublogger/2705855811/)

June 15, 2012

will.i.am: Music as Medicine

The computer is my instrument. I play it. will.i.am

On one of my bored 38,000 feet periods I discovered a documentary about Creative Visionaries, and will.i.am was on. The guy's a superstar, a creative superstar for me for lots of reasons. I love this song that isn't released yet: Mona Lisa Smile. I like his way of thinking about music, about fashion, about life. I like his hero's journey (go and find out about it). As a drummer, I love the way he talks about rythmn and he does so here in his one piece of music thus far not to have drums.

"My instrument is the computer. I'm looking at this glowing screen. I'm looking at light. Think about it. I stay in the studio 12 hours a day, staring at the light, designing it, shaping it... I affect the lives of millions of people. That's crazy".

Crazy, but not uncommon. Glowing rectangles have so much to answer for. Getting to the point where you see the glowing rectangle as your instrument, and then combining it with real, 'analogue' instruments in an orchestra that "symbolises... human collaboration", this is the balance that we should always seek with technology. Treating it as an artform amongst many artforms interests me.

"I'm not taking ritalin. I'm taking music."

February 08, 2012

Do you teach from the bandstand?

Do you have a plan that you stick with, no matter what? Do you have a plan at all? Do you have a plan that you're prepared to give up totally when a student proposes something, anything, interesting? Are you patient, listening to what's going on, allowing yourself to be pulled, and slick enough (skilled enough?) to react and create something magical out of your box to make a lesson sing?

When we're working with our Design Thinking Schools the main challenge that comes up, at the beginning at least, is the desire of educators to forward plan to the extent that improvisations - or mistakes - can't be seized upon to create something much better than the plan the teacher had written, and probably stayed up until 11pm on Sunday night writing.

Stefon Harris explains in his TED Talk how this over reliance on the plan is, in jazz, a form of musical bullying. As someone who, in his early twenties, almost gave it all up to be a big band drummer, I know exactly what he means, and I know how it feels when 17 other musicians move their plan to accommodate for another's idea.

But I can also picture it in the classroom, where a "gift" is offered up by a students' question (or a student's lack of understanding) but isn't built upon by the teacher. Who or what are you going to allow to improvise and shift your plan today?

November 27, 2011

Some Perspectives on Hip Hop for Formative Assessment & Learning

Walking back from dinner in Brisbane last week, Tom and I spotted something brilliant: mistakes. Lots of them.

A group of a half dozen streetdancers were practicing the hard stuff, and it's the part of streetdance that we never see. To get really good at something, you have to practice the hard stuff, not just rejoice in the cool, do-able, 'easy' parts. You have to prepared for a fall, and for your friends laughing at your expense!

Tom had the (Dutch?) courage to go and start asking some questions while I set up the tripod, and Paul, leader of the crew, came over for a chat that he allowed us to record. In it he reveals just how much hip hop practice is a genuinely superb example of formative assessment in action. I don't think he had read Dylan Wiliam's Inside the Black Box, but he might as well have done. Here, you can see talented dancers somewhat hiding away in the dark of a vestibule, practicing the bits they don't want anyone to see. It's a great example of where not having an audience is incredibly important, or at least, only having an audience that one can trust.

You can listen to the interview for yourself, but listen out for these key points:

  • We have the same foundations, it's like the same language to describe what we're doing, and we build on it.
  • If I like what I see then I wouldn't do the same thing - they'd say that I had "no soul". Instead, I'll do something different that's still built on the same foundations.
  • If I see someone not spending enough time on the tricky stuff, then I'll tell them. They might try it slower, faster, higher...
  • Sometimes people "take the Mickey", and tell each other that something's bad, but generally we always try to help each other, keep it all positive.

Meanwhile, Céline Azoulay-Lewin Facebooked me the video clip of a teacher, Sam Seidel, who, with a group of demanding students in a juvenile prison, found that Hip Hop was the key passion they shared, the key mechanism not only of engagement, but in turning these young people who had been told they were at society's bottom rung into responsible leaders with something worth sharing. He asks: what can educators learn from hip hop?

 

He points out:

  • Aspiring visual artists realising that they didn't need a gallery to promote their work
  • The high school drop out putting his entrepreneurial hustle into action to stop selling drugs, to sell CDs out the back of his car to selling products in Macy's;
  • You don't need a huge number of resources to make a big hit - the hip hop community has a habit of turning something out of nothing, sampling others' music to make new sounds, for example;
  • We can sample and mix multiple teaching techniques, rather than thinking there's a right way to do something;
  • We can try and make a "hot beat for today" - yesterday's way of teaching is yesterday's way of teaching - what can we do to recycle, remix and try something fresh in the hope that it's better than what went before?
  • What refuse could we be dancing on? What is the cutback or the 'trash' of yesterday that can feed innovation today?

 

March 21, 2010

Piano Improv with Chatroulette


In a break for our normal service (and any chance of getting real work done this Sunday morning) I bring you Piano Improv on Chatroulette. There's a wee bit of naughty language but, contrary to most of my own Chatroulette experiences, no rude body parts. You will laugh, maybe even be amazed by a guy with some talent and free time on his hands. I'm not going to suggest that music classrooms around the world start using Chatroulette for edyoocashun, but we can giggle a little at the curricular move that might have been...

Update: After a particularly productive morning I've discovered that the talented guy with piano and some time either is Ben from Ben Folds Five, or a good lookalike. The real Ben Folds has since responded to the User Generated inspiration and thus reinvented U2's penchant for the ritual phone call to Presidents and Prime Minsters: he now Chatroulettes with random members of the public during his 2000-seater concerts, creating witty and nsfw songs for them. Brilliant. And that means I've discovered the party piece we'll force Derek Robertson to do at Games-Based Learning in a fortnight.

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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